WILL Press Release | WILL Files Federal Lawsuit for Campus Free Speech
Technical College stops student from handing out Valentines
September 5, 2018—Green Bay, Wisconsin—WILL has filed a lawsuit against Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) for violating the free speech rights of its student, Polly Olsen, and having an unconstitutional “Public Assembly Policy.” The policy restricts free speech to a tiny area on campus and requires a permit from the authorities in order to exercise First Amendment rights. Olsen was a victim of this unconstitutional policy when campus security prevented her from handing out religious-themed valentines on Valentine’s Day.
WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said:
“While NWTC may wish to confine and regulate the free expression of their students, their policy is unconstitutional. They cannot put First Amendment rights into a box. We intend to contest NWTC’s public assembly policy in federal court to protect the rights of students there and at all public institutions.”
On Valentine’s Day, 2018, Olsen began handing out religiously-themed valentines with innocent messages such as “Jesus Loves You.” After someone complained of this “suspicious activity,” campus security was dispatched and escorted Olsen to the campus security office. At a private room, she was told that some people might find her valentines “offensive” and that she was “soliciting” on campus outside of the designated free speech zone.
NWTC’s policy has earned criticism from legal scholars outside Wisconsin. Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who specializes in the First Amendment, opining on the case:
“Courts have made clear that colleges can’t limit peaceful distribution of literature by students to some tiny ‘free speech zone.’ Even content-neutral speech restrictions on government property have to be reasonable, and courts have recognized that such broad bans on leafletting are unreasonable.”
WILL is demanding that NWTC rescind this policy and allow students like Olsen to exercise their rights protected in the Constitution. Currently, less than 1% of the NWTC campus is open to free expression. The case was filed in the U.S. Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Polly Olsen, NWTC student and plaintiff in the case, said:
“I want to see the school’s policies changed so that they align with the Constitution. I want others to know that their constitutional rights and the freedom to speak are protected no matter what point of view they might represent.”
See a video describing the case HERE.